Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Not-So-Perfect Storm

In the morning I was called up on deck. We were 15 nm off shore. Things were going crazy. Stuff was being thrown all about the JAFTICA pilot house. Chairs were all over the floor, drawers were pulled out, we were being volleyed and thrashed from bulkhead (wall) to bulkhead.

The waves were easily the sizes of houses, as we were being pitched around.

Peter and Wayne had been sailing all night on half sail in pretty rough seas. The front sail or jib was taken down all together, and the back or mainsail was only raised partway, and we were still moving fast. We figured that we were a couple of hours from Canso Strait and refuge from this awful weather.

At this stage we thought we should continue under engine power. Meanwhile I took some regular walks out to the back deck to now give up earlier meals, and working backward and was probably getting rid of Sunday brunch by now.

Then all hell broke loose. Like could it get worse? The engine stopped abruptly. That is typical of a line getting stuck in the props. So Peter shared that we were here to sail weren't we? So obviously continued to sail. Then the rudder jammed...

We were now adrift bobbing like a cork among these huge waves in the wide North Atlantic, outside the sight of land. I had to stay above decks (outside) to manage my gut. We tried restarting engines, no luck. Electrical was still good. Peter had equipped the vessel with three banks of batteries. Thankfully Peter, an experienced radio operator, called the Canadian Coast Guard for for assistance. Now we bobbed and waited. Before too long we could see the CCG Search and Rescue Cutter Bickerton arrive also bobbing in the ocean like a cork among these huge 4 metre plus waves. The Bickerton appeared to surf down the waves. The wind was now blowing extremely hard as we could hear it flapping the sails with a regular staccato. Now the only plan was to try to keep the bow of the vessel into the waves and the mainsail probably did that for us.This would keep us from capsizing or at least from being rolled sideways.

The Bickerton circled us to check out the situation. And then headed out to the windward -up wind side. They -- there were three crew on the Bickerton Stern -- threw us a line. I being the most spry old fogey among us scrambled to the bow of our vessel holding on the the stanchions and guardrails (railings) in the driving spray to receive first a light line with a monkeys fist (ball) at the end and tied to the tow rope, one hand for yourself and one for the ship. I would be knee deep in sea water at one minute and on top of a monstrous wave the next. The CCG hand signals were confusing and impossible to understand. Wayne then came forward from the cabin, after getting radioed instructions from the Bickerton, to assist. This was a surreal moment. There was nothing between me and the deep blue sea and these swells but this guardrail and a lifejacket. We fastened the line. Gave the OK. I returned to my favourite spot on the back deck. Even though the spray came over my head and soaked my back, this was still the the most comfortable spot.

In a few hours were were towed to New Harbour, still under fierce winds. We tied up. New Harbour is nothing but a cluster of a dozen or so houses and a Small Craft Harbour dock on the end of a road. There were no services to speak of.
Peter tried the engines, that suddenly worked. The line entangled in the prop must have come free when we reversed the engines or were towed. It might also have been a line from a marker buoy to a crab pot on the ocean floor. We came across many lobster trap buoys nearer to shore as well and carefully tried to avoid them, should the lines get entangled in the prop and rudder.

Due to the overpowering winds, it was very difficult to detach the JAFTICA from the Bickerton as each boat bobbed and banged into each other. Some of the JAFTICA stanchions were damaged as a result.

Once ashore, Wayne called his wife to come and get us. Being invited to stay an evening as a guest at their house was an offer I could hardly refuse for a good night's sleep on Terra Firma.

While near a pharmacy I took advantage of seeing about motion sickness pills. I knew of a very effective motion sickness drug called Marzine that I used many years ago in Newfoundland when I was first working on the ships back in the early 80s. The drugstore advised that it was not commercially available in Canada but recommended a very similar drug called "Transderm-V" or Scopolamine, which is a patch to put behind the ear. Apparently the fishermen like them. It reduces seasickness for three days with each patch. Back in business.

So it will be an exciting day tomorrow if the wind dies down and as we continue our trip. Now we must go from New Harbour to Canso Straits to Ballantynes Cove. It should be about 12 hours of sailing according to the Capt.

Press On!!

1 comment:

  1. This experience confirmed that the hull of the JAFTICA is a very sea-friendly boat. At no point in this experience did I feel unsafe about the vessel.